Knots That Catch Fish
A critical, observant, and logical look at knot tying
By Fox Statler
As simple as it may seem, the
way you tie on your fly can catch you more fish. Being a fly fishing
guide for more than 25 years, I have learned that outstanding nymph
fishermen use small and successful tricks or finesses to gain the edge
on the average Joe. The small finesses are the little tricks that induce
the extra strikes when the fishing is poor and the better strikes when
the fishing is good. From rigging their leaders and tippets to the
slightest variance in their cast are often the difference that
transforms the day of fishing from marginal to great. I have several of
these little tricks that often make the day for myself or my clients.
One in particular is the knot that I use to tie on my nymph. Believe it
or not, something as simple as a knot can make a difference in
presentation and whether an elusive 24 inch Brown takes or ignores the
morsel that you are presenting. While tippet size, leader length, fly
line weight and several other factors can also influence your prey, the
knot is the part of your rigging that is the closest to the fish and
its’ effect is most visible.
Most nymphs are tied on
Turned-Down-Eye (TDE) hooks --- why? Can anyone provide an advantage for
using a TDE hook when nymph fishing? I don’t care what shank length or
size it is they all share the same disadvantage, the Turned-Down-Eye.
Actually I believe the TDE hooks were made for snelling, tying the line
on the hook by wrapping it around the hook shank and then out the
hook-eye. TDE hooks actually favor the dry fly angler more than the
nymph fisherman. For the dry fly angler, the angle of the hook-eye lets
the tippet dangle to the water without tipping the fly over forward.
While for the nymph fisherman the TDE hook lessens the hook gape and
inverts the nymph making it drift up-side-down. The inversion of the fly
would not be such a disadvantage if it kept the fly inverted at all
times and stopped snagging with the bottom. Then the tyer could tie the
back of the fly in the gape side or hook's belly instead of on the
hook's back and make the pattern's appearance upright at all times. This
is particularly true if the fly is imitating a swimming nymph, because a
swimming nymph always rights itself before swimming away. Large predator
nymphs like Stoneflies and Dobson flies are examples of this.
Well, are Straight-Eyed hooks or
Turned-Up-Eyed (TUE) hooks any better? Knot really. That was not a
misspelling but a pun to make a point. The knot really makes the
difference no matter what type of hook you are using. If you tie the
nymph on with just about any conventional or traditional knot when
dead-drifting the pattern and the nymph is not touching the bottom, it
drifts dangling straight down or vertically below the line or indicator.
This may be a normal presentation for some nymphs like ---- I can’t
think of one. Well you might say an emerging nymph, but emerging nymphs
are swimming up toward the surface not floating vertically a couple of
feet below the surface. Sorry, in my rivers nothing floats vertically
several feet below the surface. I don’t think they do in yours either.
But if the knot actually
determined your nymph’s position regardless of the style of hook it
would be an enormous advantage for the angler. This is possible. Here
are your choices: Guaranteed Vertical; Guaranteed Horizontal with the
hook-point-down; and Guaranteed Horizontal with the hook-point-up. Which
would you - the angler - choose? Well truthfully there is, or could be,
a time and presentation for each of these hook positions. Guaranteed
Vertical is used for emerging nymphs, but don’t dead drift them. Swim
them to the surface. Guaranteed Horizontal with the hook-point-down
would best be used in deep water when there is not a chance of coming in
contact with the bottom. And lastly, Guaranteed Horizontal with the
hook-point-up is the best choice for most fishing situations.
Why is Guaranteed Horizontal
with the hook-point-up the best choice? Most true aquatic and pseudo
aquatic nymphs move through the water in a horizontal position. From
Oligochaete worms to minnows, horizontal is the normal presentation. The
hook-point-up is the best choice if the bottom is barely a possibility.
Snagging the fly on the bottom loses it or dulls it. Also, hook-point-up
hooks the fish in the stouter portion of its mouth; the upper jaw.
Hooking the fish here gives the angler more leverage and lift on the
fish during the fight. Ever wonder why carp don’t come to the surface
easily? Their tail is almost always above their mouth during a fight.
S o what is this wonderful knot
that I use to guarantee the hook position of a nymph? Believe it or
knot, it is any slip knot that you tie best. It could be a “Universal
Knot” or a “Clinch Knot” or any other knot that lets the tippet slip
through the middle of it to tighten. You see it is not the knot - but
the relationship of the hook-eye, the tippet, and where you place the
knot on the hook that makes all the difference in the world.
Lets take the simplest
presentation first - Guaranteed Vertical. With a Straight-Eyed, TUE, or
TDE hook tie the fly on using any knot that tightens on the hook-eye.
The pictures below are all #12 Sowbug tied on different style hooks. All
three bugs have the same amount of lead wire, 10 wraps of .025, straw
backing, thread, and dubbing. The pictures are, from left to right, a
Straight-Eyed hook, a TUE hook, and a TDE hook.
This is most likely the way that
ninety-nine percent of the fishermen tie on their nymphs with some sort
of knot tightening on the front of the hook-eye.
Guaranteed Horizontal with
The next two presentations are a
little more difficult depending on the hook the nymph is tied on. So
lets try Guaranteed Horizontal with the Hook-Point-Down. We are tying on
a Straight-Eyed hook or a TUE hook. Using either style hook the tying
method is the same. Put the tippet through the hook-eye on the hook's
back side going down to the hook's belly side. Again this is important,
the tippet through the back side of the hook. Tie a slip knot on the end
of the tippet. Run the nymph through the loop of the slip knot tail
first. Position the loop of the slip knot between the head of the nymph
and the hook-eye (on the fly's head threads). Tighten the slip knot at
this position on the hook with the knot of the slip knot on the hook's
belly side. Pull the slack out of the tippet up through the hook-eye.
That makes these two styles of
hooks, Straight-Eyed and TUE Guaranteed Horizontal with the
Hook-Point-Down. Now, what about the TDE hook?
Again run the tippet through the
back side of the hook-eye going down to the belly side. Again tie a slip
knot on the end of the tippet. This time, run the nymph through the loop
of the slip knot head first, I repeat head first. Position the loop
between the hook-eye and the head of the nymph (on the fly's head
thread). If you have this correctly positioned the tippet should be
under the loop. Tighten the slip knot with the knot of the slip knot on
the hook’s belly. Pull the slack out of the tippet back through the
hook-eye. This is Guaranteed Horizontal with the Hook-Point-Down for the
TDE hook style.
Guaranteed Horizontal with
Last presentation, Guaranteed
Horizontal with the Hook-Point-Up. Well if you made it through
“horizontal with hook-point-down”, this presentation won’t be to hard to
understand. Lets start with the simplest hook style the TDE hook. Run
the tippet through the belly side of the hook-eye going to the back
(this is opposite of the “horizontal hook-point-down” presentation). Tie
a slip knot at the end of the tippet. Now depending upon the size of
wire the hook is made of: if it is a thin wire hook like a dry fly hook
(which I tie all my nymphs on) run the tail of the fly through the loop
of the slip knot; if it is a heavy wire hook run the hook-eye through
the loop of the slip knot. In both cases position the loop of the slip
knot between the head of the fly and the hook-eye and tighten the slip
knot with the knot of the slip knot on the back side of the hook. Then
pull the slack out of the tippet from the belly side of the hook. If you
tied it correctly, on the thin wire hook the slip knot is between the
hook-eye and the head of the nymph. The tippet is in front of the slip
knot coming through the hook-eye. For the heavy wire hook the loop
tightens at the same position but on top of the tippet. The
Straight-Eyed hook is tied in the same manner depending upon the weight
of the fly. For light flies the slip knot tightens behind the tippet,
for heavy flies the slip knot tightens over the tippet.
For the TUE hook there is only
one choice for tying “horizontal hook-point-up”. Put the tippet through
the belly side of the hook. Tie a slip knot on the end of the tippet.
Run the hook-eye through the loop of the slip knot. Position the loop of
the slip knot between the hook-eye and the head of the nymph. Tighten
from the back side of the hook. Pull the slack of the tippet back
through the belly side of the hook-eye. If tied correctly the slip knot
loop is over the tippet.
Questions & Answers
Have you asked yourself whether
or not this could make a difference in other types of fishing:
soft-hackles, streamers, maybe dry flys? Let’s just say it depends on
how you are presenting them. Are you fishing them like a nymph? Then yes
Which style of the three hooks
(Straight-Eyed, TUE, and TDE) do you think I choose for my nymphs? My
preference is Straight-Eyed dry fly hooks. The hook-gape is not lessened
by the eye of the hook and the light wire penetrates the flesh and bone
of the fish with less force. Which is essential when your tippet is 6X
Do I tie my nymph's back on the
hook's belly. No I don't, who would buy them that way? But I do give
them a half twist on the hook after I tie them on my tippet.
I tie my jigs on different also
but that’s another article as well.
Rare is the nymph fisherman that
will take the time to be this meticulous when tying on his/her nymph.
But -- I am a rare nymph fisherman and my reputation is a testament of
Text and photos by Fox Statler 2007 ©